“Grant me the treasure of sublime poverty: permit the distinctive sign of our order to be that it does not possess anything of its own beneath the sun, for the glory of your name, and that it have no other patrimony than begging.”
Francis of Assisi
There is a saying, “One man’s junk is another man’s treasure”; it means that treasure is often subjective. It’s why the child cries inconsolably when someone throws away their favourite blanket or toy that they’ve loved to rags; it’s why garage sales (US), boot sales (UK) or flea markets work so well. But no matter how much treasure we gather around us on this earth, we can take none of it with us when we go; that treasured trophy becomes a dust collector on someone else’s shelf.
True treasure is another matter entirely: Treasure that we can send ahead – depositing for when life really begins beyond the veil of mortal death (Luke 12:32-34). Proverbs 1:7 tells us that fear (a loving reverence) of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, while Proverbs 2:1-11 & Proverbs 8:17-21 tell us that wisdom leads to imperishable treasures. Not only do wisdom and understanding bring eternal treasure, but also blessings in the present: When we understand what it means to reverently submit to the Lord (and the more we understand his character, the easier it is to trust him), we will find ourselves under his protection and blessing. That is not some kind of divine insurance policy – it’s not a guarantee that life will always go smoothly, peacefully, protected and blessed; it means that we won’t complicate things by making as many stupid decisions. Humans, without God, have an amazing capacity for finding ways to screw up their lives! When we walk in relationship with God, he will teach us wisdom, and discretion will protect us.
Earthly treasure is ultimately useless; when Ebenezer Scrooge is faced with his own mortality in A Christmas Carol, he realizes that his wealth was only a gilded cage, and begins to live generously – though his first change was one of the heart. Jesus asks us in Luke 9:25 “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?” while Luke 12:32-34 tells us to use the wealth we have to bless others, and in so doing laying up true treasures in heaven. There is a powerful spiritual dynamic that manifests itself when we live generously: The hold on our hearts of wealth and materialism weakens… they lose their power over us when we cease to be slaves to riches to begin to master it (Matthew 6:24). That is the principle behind tithing: Meaning “tenth”, in ancient times tithe was given in produce (vegetable or animal), and the amount of 10% was symbolic of 100% – it was a declaration that God deserved it all, and it was putting one’s wealth entirely under his Lordship.
Malachi 3:9-10 tells us clearly what happens when one brings (and also when one does not bring) the whole tithe to God. If your finances are tight, it may be because you’re not giving enough! It sounds contradictory to the rational mind, but it is a spiritual principle that I’ve never seen fail. When I was a missionary funds were often tight; withdrawing £10 from my bank account was a strain; but when I tithed, even the widow’s mite (Luke 21:2), that money suddenly lasted a lot longer. Years later, my husband and I were experiencing a financially tight time; we investigated our accounts and realized that we weren’t giving enough away! We raised our support of a few missionaries, and soon our finances were healthy. It makes no sense by worldly standards – but it’s a principle of a Kingdom that’s far more powerful!
Portrait: The Magi
The Magi brought treasures to Jesus: The quantities of gifts were fitting not only for a great foreign king they’d travelled nearly two years to pay honour to, but also represented their own importance as well. The three gifts offered by the Magi were very significant ones: Gold was a symbol of kingship, the wealth of the earth. It is one of the only metals that when heated loses none of its nature, weight or colour, but still allows impurities to surface; it is used to symbolize faith and the process of refinement. Frankincense represents priesthood and divinity; it was familiar to most people in the ancient world and used in religious ceremonies. Myrrh, unlike sweet Frankincense, is bitter. It was used as a resin in a spice mixture used to embalm the dead, and was symbolic of Jesus’ purpose in coming: His death, burial and resurrection. It makes an appearance both at the beginning and the end of Jesus’ life on earth. It was used medicinally as a pain killer (often dissolved in wine) which is likely the reason Jesus refused to drink it on the cross (Mark 15:23). This treasure provided immediate wealth to enable Joseph to uproot his young family in the dead of night and flee to Egypt and set up a life there (Matthew 2:13-14). The treasure was a means to an end, as all treasure should be; those who accumulate and collect only to possess will end up being controlled by the very treasures they cannot take with them when they die, and likely did not enjoy while here on earth. When we lay our treasures at the feet of Jesus, he will take it and use it for a blessing through us for others, which in turn blesses us with so much more than money can buy!
Are there treasures in your life that have a hold on you in some way? I would challenge you to give them away, or sell them – let them go, so that they will release you. If it is a treasure that is intrinsically useful but has become an addiction, such as the constant presence of your cell phone or television, find a way to set it aside daily and enjoy the company of those you’re physically with now, honouring them with undivided attention. Matthew 19:21-26 shows us how wealth had a grip on the young rich man; true freedom would only come when he let go of that control. With God, all things are possible… so much more than when we try it on our own. See also Isaiah 45:3.